Tech platforms and internet activists protested the outcome of a European Parliament vote Wednesday to back copyright rules that would help video, music and other rights holders seek compensation for use of their content online.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and other tech firms may soon be forced to negotiate licenses for content that appears on their sites, creating legal headaches for the companies, after lawmakers broadly supported a legislative proposal for new copyright rules, unveiled in 2016 by the European Commission.
The European Parliament in July had rejected the rules but backed them in a final vote Wednesday after lawmakers submitted slight tweaks to the text, which included ensuring small platforms were excluded from the scope of the law.
If they fail to negotiate a license with video or music producers, tech firms could have to actively filter out copyrighted content from what users upload on their platforms, which has sparked concerns among internet activists that this could lead to censorship. The parliament sought to address those concerns by ruling that any action platforms take to check uploads should avoid catching works that don’t infringe any copyrights.
The parliament’s decision Wednesday is part of a broader push by legislators to make web services more legally liable for what appears on their sites. Earlier Wednesday, the commission proposed new legislation forcing internet companies to wipe Islamic State videos and other terror content from their services within an hour or face fines if they fail to do so. That effort by EU lawmakers marks a shift away from allowing tech platforms freedoms absolving them of such responsibility, partly in a bid to ensure growth in the sector.
European lawmakers “decided to support the filtering of the internet to the benefit of big businesses in the music and publishing industries despite huge public outcry,” said Siada El Ramly, director general of Edima, an internet platform association that includes Facebook and Google.
Wednesday’s decision by the parliament follows months of a bitter campaign and aggressive lobbying, with publishers and creators squaring off against tech firms and internet activists and each side accusing the other of misleading legislators.
Julia Reda, an internet activist and German member of European Parliament, said the decision was “a severe blow to the free and open internet” and that the parliament was putting “corporate profits over freedom of speech.”
Copyright holders for music, images and other content believe rules are needed to negotiate fair compensation for their work from web companies like Google and Facebook, who they say indirectly profit from displaying their content and running advertising.
For copyrighted works, services like Google’s YouTube already use technology that scans and identifies protected content that’s uploaded. Copyright owners can then either have the material taken down or choose to make money from it by running ads and sharing revenue with the uploader. But under the new rules, Facebook and Google would be required to prevent works from appearing on their sites at all if rights holders demand it.
“Today is a victory for Europe and its independence from a few tech giants who have profited off outdated legislation,”said Anders Lassen, President of GESAC, a European umbrella association of authors and composers. The association added the rules “will at last provide the tools to ensure the fair remuneration that creators have been asking for.”
The new copyright rules supported by the parliament would also grant publishers new legal rights to help them seek compensation from search engines like Google for displaying small fragments of their articles. While Google News recently stopped showing such snippets under article headlines, depending on the final version of the law, the links and headlines could also be covered by the rules.
The final version of the law still needs to be agreed with the commission and EU member states, who also broadly support the commission’s proposal, before it enters into force.